A fascinating portrait of the rise (and inevitable) fall of a genuine genius that is so much more than just a documentary about football. Diego Maradona is compelling viewing that explores the real price of greatness and adulation.
Director Asif Kapadia completes his trilogy of documentaries focusing on flawed geniuses (after Senna and Amy) with Diego Maradona. The film charts the life of one Diego Armando Maradona, a gifted footballer from the slums of Argentina who achieves success but at a huge cost.
I think it’s vital that I say early on this is a fantastic film even if you’re not a fan of football, as with Asif Kapadia’s films it’s more about the central character than the thing they were (are in Maradona’s case) famous for. Yes, there is a decent amount of football footage throughout the film but it’s used to illustrate what drove Maradona and what made him tick. There’s a balletic beauty to the way that he played, and even the old grainy footage on show here looks like a beautifully choreographed action scene. I’m slightly too young to have ever seen ‘live’ footage of Diego Maradona at his peak; to me, he was the bloated player from the 1994 World Cup or the man who cheated his way to World Cup victory with that goal in the 1986 World Cup. It’s only after seeing Diego Maradona that I can appreciate just how brilliant he really was.
The most interesting thing is that the title, Diego Maradona, doesn’t follow the pattern of his previous films by having a single word title and while that may seem like a small thing, it’s not. Over the course of the film, it becomes apparent that this is a very definite choice as it represents the duality of the man himself. On the one hand, we have Diego, the shy boy from the small town who just wants to play football, who is uncomfortable with adulation showered upon him. Then there’s Maradona, the cocky showman created to be his public persona, a larger than life character who succumbs to drinks, drugs, and women. It’s really compelling viewing, told through interviews with the man himself and those who know him and it is completely heartbreaking at times. We hear from Maradona, in voiceover, as he is today and he seems like a man full of remorse and regret. It’s a common story but he got too much too fast and it took its toll.
This isn’t your typical sports documentary either; as breathtaking as Maradona’s on-field antics are his personal life was equally incendiary as he slowly falls to a life of substance abuse. Throughout his time in Italy, he slowly grew closer to the Camorra, a local crime family, as the vultures circled to stake a claim in the savior of football in Naples.
I can’t recommend this film enough, it’s compelling viewing whether you are a fan of the sport or not. It’s a story of a flawed genius and the cost of brilliance that has universal appeal. It’s really difficult to appreciate just how much adoration and love Diego Maradona received in Naples; he was treated as a deity and that’s got to be a lot of pressure on anyone’s shoulders. I left the screening feeling overwhelmed by what I’d seen. I was just a passive participant in the circus that was his life and I needed a bit of a lie down afterward. It’s a real testament to Asif Kapadia that he’s able to make this such an accessible, emotional and engaging story.
Oli has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. He has a PhD in Computer Science and he writes articles about TV, film and, very occasionally, science.